EAGLES FILM ROOM | What if the answer to starting nickel role is a total wildcard?

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Replacing a player as productive as Patrick Robinson was never going to be an easy task, but the Eagles have all the right pieces to complete that puzzle. As Training Camp and preseason has gone on, the two most likely candidates to fill that void have been Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox. With just two games remaining before the season opener, finding out who is going to be the starting nickel corner seems like a priority…unless it’s already been figured out.

In this episode of ‘Eagles Film Room’, we break down the tape from the Eagles preseason loss to New England with the intent of finding out who had the better game, Sidney Jones or Avonte Maddox. What we discovered was something completely different. There is every possibility that the Eagles go into this season without one starting nickel cornerback, but with a tandem.

This works at other positions in the NFL, so why not here? Offenses are rapidly evolving and nickel formations are becoming the standard. As teams get cuter with screens and utilizing versatile backfield, the demand for a different skillset arises. Enter Avonte Maddox, who had 7.5 career sacks during his time at Pitt and as a more compact corner, conducts himself with a level of competitiveness and ferocity often missing at the position. Maddox tackles cleanly and concisely, possessing zippy short area quickness with a 4.39 40-yard dash time. This makes the fourth-round draft selection better suited to pick up running backs out of the flat, run support, or contribute in blitzing situations.

Meanwhile, Sidney Jones is a ballhawk. After all, that’s what earned him the reputation as one of the finest corners in his class. With 21 passes defensed and 8 picks during his time at Washington, Jones thrives around the ball and showed it on film, both in week 17 last year and his preseason experience.

This leaves the Eagles with an interesting option. There’s no reason why their nickel cornerback can’t be a situational change. If the offense is showing a 21-personell look (2 running backs, 1 tight end), chances are you want a cornerback in there who can clean up and make an impact. If the offense instead lines up four receivers and needs chunks of turf, a corner more comfortable in coverage techniques would benefit the defense more.

Not only that, but look at how the Jim Schwartz defense is evolving. Nate Gerry is becoming a true stud to watch out for as a hybrid safety-linebacker, while Malcolm Jenkins played the majority of his snaps last season inside the box. For Schwartz, optionality is everything…and the Eagles are loaded with it here.

Could this be the way that the Eagles run their secondary this season?

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